Tuesday, April 24, 2012

M.C. Kids (NES, 1992)

My first acquaintance with the bizarre world of McKids came through the C64 version, which was titled McDonaldland. It got OK reviews (71% in Commodore Format) and I was into platformers at the time, so I tried it out. I liked the atmosphere, and it was clear there were some nice ideas in the game, so I sort of liked it - at first. However, when I made it through the later stages in the game, something began to feel off about the C64 conversion: it felt unfinished. But it was only when I came across the NES original that the extent of how poorly programmed the C64 version was became evident: a rush-job that in later levels bore very little resemblance to the original.

But let's leave aside the C64 version and take a look at the NES one. Let's be clear about this, McKids has a lot of clever ideas in it: walking upside down, springs, non-linear routes, shortcuts, mazes, different types of gravity, trolleys etc. It's a good game which will appeal if you like some mystique into your arcade endeavors. That said, I feel that it could be better. There aren't many enemies around, and to make up for this the programmers have turned the pace a bit on the fast side. I would rather have more enemies and a slower pace. The music and background graphics could also be more atmospheric. It would have added enigma and fascination.

I feel like I'm not done with McKids though. I'm gonna try out the Amiga version (also titled McDonaldland) and see whether they finally nailed it there. There's also a Gameboy version but from what I've seen it's not much cop.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Batman (C64, 1989)

Ocean was, arguably, the most popular software house back in the late 80's and early 90's, and their specialty was movie conversions, often labeled as "the Ocean tie-in". So here is the game that started it all, Batman The Movie (along with The Untouchables).

What Ocean did in these two film licenses was to present a mix of gaming styles, the most prevalent of which was the platforming shoot-em-up. Ιn Batman, that is the case for levels one and five, which take place in the Axis Chemical Factory (where Jack Napier becomes the Joker) and in the Gotham Cathedral (where the final showdown occurs) respectively.

These two sections are by far the best in the game, offering solid platforming action with a twist: Batman can swing from platform to platform using the batrope, Bionic Commando-style.

To add spice, levels two and four offer isometric-3D racing action, the former featuring the Batmobile - which allows you to drive in a fast and precise manner, the latter utilizing the Batwing - which is slower but more difficult to maneuver. Finally, level three is a minor puzzle sub-game. All good stuff, which follow the plot of the film surprisingly well. As a fan of the movie back then, I wasn't disappointed. However, what really sets this game apart is the fantastic music by Matthew Cannon, which really gives it an atmospheric edge, particularly in the later levels.

So that was it, with an enormous hit on their hands, Ocean had a mold, which they used to shape later conversions like Total Recall, The Terminator 2 and Darkman.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Soko-Ban (C64, 1988)

What we have here, my friends, is one of the best (if not the best) puzzle games ever made. Forget about Tetris and Bejeweled. These games are only puzzle games in the vaguest sense of the term. Sokoban is the real deal.

So what is Soko-Ban anyway? Soko-ban stands for warehouse keeper in Japanese. And that's what the game is about. As seen from an overhead view, you push crates in a maze, and you're supposed to put them in specific places. That's it. It doesn't sound like there's much to it, does it? Think again. Try the game and you'll see what I mean.

 So what about this Commodore-64 version? Well, it's as good as any. Admittedly, it's a bit on the slow side, and the turquoise graphics are not exactly state of the art, not to mention that the sound is practically non existent. But the playability is there, and that's what matters.

 There are 50 levels in total, but in the cracked version that I have tried there is a bug in level 42 which prevented me from proceeding any further. Apart from that, there is a level editor so that you can come up with your own designs, should you feel like it. Personally, I have never bothered with designing by own stuff, but you can't really complain about such a feature.